Nuclear Double Standards

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Fred Kaplan has a good column today on why people should worry about a nuclear-armed Iran. “We may end up having to live with a nuclear Iran, but it won’t be easy to manage; it shouldn’t be shrugged at.” That seems right. Iran probably would never give a bomb to terrorists, as some fear, but among other things, Kaplan worries that a nuclear Iran could think itself invincible and start provoking conflicts without fear of retaliation. Or, if the chain-of-command and safeguards are shoddy, Iran could accidentally carry out a nuclear attack, as Pakistan nearly did in 2001.

Can’t say he’s wrong. But those concerns don’t just apply to Iran; they’re exactly why it’s a bad thing when anyone gets nuclear weapons; you never know who might have a hand on the red button. Here in the United States, the inmates in charge have at various times considered revising the nuclear doctrine to include the use of “low-yield” nuclear weapons. Is that really so much less scary than the prospect that Iran may develop its own little atomic bomb some day?

But that’s just an argument in favor of figuring out how to create a “nuclear-free” Middle East—not to mention strengthening arms-control treaties around the world—in order to limit everyone’s access to nuclear weapons, rather than merely the “bad” countries we happen to think are dangerous. Unfortunately—and Fred Kaplan himself had another good column on this a few days before—the White House now distinguishes between “good” and “bad” nuclear powers, as evinced by its latest nuclear deal with India (which completely violates the actually-quite-successful Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). It’s the sort of double-standard that could make nonproliferation even more difficult, and doesn’t necessarily reduce the risk that people could still do dangerous things with nuclear weapons.

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